The season began last Tuesday with one shocking result, another that surprised nobody and a third that frustrated many bettors with the first bad beat of the season.
To nobody’s surprise the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers broke open a game in which they led by just 3 points at the half to rout the New York Knicks 117-88 in front of an enthusiastic but partially distracted home crowd whose attention was partially on events across the street as the Indians were opening the World Series against the Cubs with a 6-0 win.
A few hours later the team defeated by the Cavs last spring to win the NBA Title, the record setting Golden State Warriors, were blown out on their home court by the San Antonio Spurs who were playing without future Hall of Famer, the recently retired Tim Duncan, for the first time in almost two decades. The Spurs took an 11 point lead into the second quarter and outscored the Warriors in all four quarters, shocking not just Golden State but much of the NBA fraternity with a 129-100.
At least the pressure is off the Warriors to duplicate their 24-0 start of last season that led to their record setting 73 regular season wins.
At the same time the Warriors were being blown out several hundred miles to the north Portland was hosting Utah. The Trailblazers were 6 point home favorites and many a sharp bettor took the plus 6 with the Jazz, a team may expect to contend for a fourth or fifth Playoff seed in the West.
Their faith seemed to be justified when Utah led the Blazers 83-77 after three quarters, placing Portland’s NBA record of 15 straight home opening wins in jeopardy. Covering by a dozen points with 12 minutes to play made Jazz backers huge favorites to cash their tickets, even they ultimately lost the game straight up. With just under 5 minutes remaining the Jazz still held a 3 point lead.
Damian Lillard hit a 3 pointer with just over a minute remaining to put the Blazers up 109-102 to crush Utah bettors in what was a 113-104 final.
Ouch! Just the first of many frustrating bad beats – or at least tough ones – that will inevitably occur over the 1,230 game regular season schedule.
Handicapping and betting the NBA may be the most challenging of all the major sports for several reasons. First is the nature of the game itself. Played by only 5 players at a time the presence or absence of a single player has a greater impact than in baseball, hockey or football – including the quarterback in football.
The often frantic pace of the game and physical play takes both a mental and physical toll on players when such play can go uninterrupted and without stoppages for several minutes at a time. In football there are stoppages of up to 35 seconds between plays and similar stoppages of play occur in baseball.
Add in the physical pounding bodies take from constant up and down contact on the hard floor and it’s no surprise that leg and foot injuries occur as frequently as they do in the NBA.
As such, handicapping the NBA often relies more upon scheduling dynamics such as travel and back to back games than it does on accurate Power Ratings and other metrics.
We still need those ratings and metrics as a guide but they are a starting point, not the final destination. Power Ratings and the like often reflect the established difference between teams if all things are equal and/or teams play their typical game. Typical is different from average. Averages reflect the best and worst and all results in between. Typical reflects the most common result or set of results within a narrow range.
The first few weeks of most seasons produce many surprises and disappointment as we are accustomed to referring back to last season and making some adjustments for personnel arrivals and departures. Often those adjustments fall short or exaggerate the true impacts that we witness on the court.
Often by Thanksgiving and certainly by Christmas we will have a pretty good idea of which early season strong starts were not indicative of success deep into the season and which disappointing starts were merely cases of contending teams off to slow starts.
The NBA grind is the most demanding of the major starts considering the level and intensity of the physical effort required to play the game at the highest of levels.
Ultimately the best teams over the course of the 82 game regular season make it far in the playoffs. But the months of November and December can often give a glimpse of teams poised to take the next steps on the way to contending for a title, if not this season then perhaps within the next season or two.
Here’s a preview of three attractive matchups that will be played this weekend.
Golden State at LA Lakers (Friday): Golden State is the more talented team by a wide margin and should be heavily favored. But the Lakers catch Golden State off a Thursday night home game against Oklahoma City. The Lakers opened the season with an upset home win over Houston before embarking on a road trip that ended Wednesday in Atlanta. Golden State could be a double digit favorite but with Walton’s knowledge of the Warriors personnel this could be a more competitive contest than expected. LA LAKERS.
LA Clippers at San Antonio (Saturday): The Spurs have started the new season 4-0 both SU and ATS through Sunday. The Clippers had only played twice but won and covered both games. The home team won and covered all three meetings last season. The previous season saw the Clippers eliminate the Spurs in the Playoff’s opening round in seven games before blowing a 3 games to 1 lead to Houston. San Antonio just knows how to take care of business on what has long been one of the strongest home courts in the league. SAN ANTONIO.
Utah at NY Knicks (Sunday): Both teams are expected to be much improved this season with the Knicks, surprisingly, attracting plenty of action in the futures market which has been hard to explain. The Knicks do have a nice nucleus of talent with veteran Carmelo Anthony and rising star Kristaps Porzingis complemented by the arrival of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah following successful careers in Chicago. Utah does not have as many big names but has a very cohesive group of players that has played well enough to justify a prediction of finishing fourth in the West based on projected wins totals. This is the start of a road trip for Utah which plays in Philadelphia on Monday. The Knicks next play on Wednesday creating the more favorable situation for the hosts. NEW YORK.